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ACA Takes Aim at Sinclair/New Age

The American Cable Association has asked the FCC to either put conditions on Sinclair's proposed purchase of the New Age TV stations or designate them for a hearing. ACA also wants the FCC commissioners to decide, rather than leave the decision at the Media Bureau level.

"ACA submits that the Applications as submitted cannot be approved under the public interest standard," ACA said in its filing.

Sinclair announced in late September that it had struck a $90 million deal for New Age's eight stations and would be spinning off some to Cunningham Broadcasting, with which it has an ongoing operating relationship.

The deal came on the eve of the FCC's decision to eliminate the UHF discount, which would put Sinclair near the 39% ownership cap.

ACA has already filed a petition to condition or block some of the Sinclair/Allbritton station purchases and Gannett/Belo deal spin-offs, and has the same issue with the New Age deal. "ACA is concerned about the effect of the transaction on two markets where the transaction would result in Sinclair entering into agreements that allow it to coordinate the negotiation of retransmission consent agreements for two top-four rated Big Four television stations," the organization said.

As with other Sinclair "sidecar" deals, ACA argues that in those two markets, Sinclair will have virtual duopolies that could collude in retrans negotiations.

ACA suggests that it will be tough to apply conditions that would prevent coordinated retrans negotiations, but that the FCC should try anyway. ACA wants the FCC to prevent Cunningham and Sinclair from jointly negotiating, including through a common third party, and to disallow any sharing of information on negotiations.

Sinclair has argued that the sharing arrangements are within FCC rules and that attempts to apply those conditions are simply efforts to regulate through conditions and belong in a regulatory proceeding, not a merger review.

The Media Bureau in the past has declined to block or condition deals involving shared services and other joint agreements, saying it is an issue before the commission in the [still-open] retransmission consent proceeding.